Washington. Now that US President Joe Biden has approved a proposed intellectual property waiver for COVID-19 vaccines, the next step is for the WTO to prepare a deal, a process that could take months.
Trade experts said the negotiations would not only be long, but also likely lead to a concession that would be narrower in scope and shorter duration than the one initially proposed by India and South Africa.
Before Biden’s announcement, the two countries confirmed their intention to prepare a new proposal at the WTO’s General Council meeting on Wednesday, prompting the new WTO Director-General, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, to express her hopes for a “workable solution.”
Ten meetings in seven months did not bring WTO members closer to consensus on the original proposal for the waiver.
Collette Williams, a former White House trade official, said a more realistic goal might be to complete the deal in time for the next World Trade Organization ministerial conference, scheduled for Nov.30 to Dec.3.
“At the very least, it would be a month or two” of the deadline for any deal, said Clate Williams, a former White House trade official at the White House who previously served on the US trade mission to the World Trade Organization in Geneva.
“At the moment, there is no proposal on the table that abandoned the TRIPS Agreement for vaccines,” he said, referring to the WTO Agreement on “Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights” that governs the transfer of ownership. Such as cinematography or certain rights. Aspects of vaccine manufacturing.
Williams, now trading partner at law firm Akin Gump in Washington, said a more realistic goal might be to complete the deal in time for the next World Trade Organization ministerial conference, scheduled for Nov.30 to Dec.3.
That should give vaccine producers more time to increase global supplies, which could help contain the virus and ease pressure for an exemption.
The initial IP waiver proposal submitted by India and South Africa in October included vaccines, treatments, diagnostic kits, personal protective equipment and other products related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
US Trade Representative Catherine Tye said on Wednesday that she would seek “text-based negotiations” on the WTO waiver, the standard but boring process of trade agreement negotiations.
Typically negotiators exchange texts in their preferred form, then try to find common ground, sometimes leaving empty spaces for politicians to resolve difficult disagreements.
The 164 member states of the World Trade Organization must reach consensus on such decisions, and any member can veto it, so there can be many corrections. The negotiations will likely take place in a mixture of virtual, face-to-face meetings.
“These negotiations will take time due to the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved,” Tai said in a statement.